The Note: Expecting Surprises

ST. PAUL, Minn. --

What did John McCain know, and when did he know it?

We will get a full Republican National Convention back starting Tuesday. (Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Sen. Fred Thompson help get us from telethon to television -- and President Bush will get his address via satellite, for better and worse, while Rudy Giuliani gets bumped to another night.)

But even if we didn't get back on track, just think of what we've been through together already. A storm blew through St. Paul Monday -- and there was a hurricane you may have heard about, too.

And behind the news about Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter (biology as pushback?) is a pregnant series of questions about Sen. John McCain: Did he know, really and fully, what he was getting in to? Does his campaign regret the choice, even a little bit? What does all of this say about his judgment?

(How many more stories before Palin = "Northern Exposure," and how long a trip is it from there to Tom Eagleton/Harriet Miers territory?)

(And while we're waiting for those answers -- Sen. Barack Obama will be George Stephanopoulos' exclusive headliner Sunday on ABC's "This Week.")

It was a good political day to dump Palin information, as Gustav wasn't quite dumping its wrath on the Gulf Coast. But this starts to add up:

"Among other less attention-grabbing news of the day: it was learned that Ms. Palin now has a private lawyer in a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner; that she was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede; and that Mr. Palin was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken-driving charge," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.

"We are going to flush the toilet," new McCain-Palin aide Tucker Eskew (yes, THE Tucker Eskew) tells the Times.

Things Team McCain may have wanted done, say, last week: "Aides to Mr. McCain said they had a team on the ground in Alaska now to look more thoroughly into Ms. Palin's background," Bumiller reports. "A Republican with ties to the campaign said the team assigned to vet Ms. Palin in Alaska had not arrived there until Thursday, a day before Mr. McCain stunned the political world with his vice-presidential choice."

Surely somebody up there got a phone call: "The former U.S. attorney for Alaska, Wev Shea, who enthusiastically recommended Palin back in March, said he was never contacted with any follow-up questions Chris Coleman, one of Palin's next-door neighbors, said that no one representing McCain spoke to him about Palin. Another neighbor also was never contacted, he said Monday," McClatchy's Sean Cockerham reports.

"Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, 'This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out.' "

It is happening, indeed. And as Team McCain tries to make it stop -- how much of this is cold hard fact? (And why did search details like these only come out after the revelations did?)

"Before she was chosen to be Sen. John McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin submitted to a three-hour interview with the head of his vice presidential search team, and responded to a 70-question form that included 'intrusive personal questions,' a senior campaign aide said Monday," Michael D. Shear and Karl Vick write in The Washington Post. "The aide said all facts about Palin's record and background that have caused controversy as they were revealed in the past few days -- including the ongoing 'troopergate' investigation and the fact that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant -- were known to the McCain campaign."

The AP's Liz Sidoti: "Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., the lawyer who conducted the review, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that Palin underwent a 'full and complete' examination before McCain chose her. Asked whether everything that came up as a possible red flag during the review already has been made public, Culvahouse said: 'I think so. Yeah, I think so. Correct.' "

McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace, asked by ABC's Diane Sawyer when precisely McCain learned the pregnancy news: "We're going to let some things stay private, and I don't happen to know the minute, hour, and day. . . . It was certainly known, and it didn't give Sen. McCain any pause."

Said ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "The question is, what else is out there? . . . Was the vetting process complete and professional? . . . What does it say about Sen. McCain's judgment?"

Consider what else we're learning (and she hasn't even sat down for a single real media interview yet):

"For every piece of the portrait of Palin that the McCain campaign sketches, a far more complicated picture of the Alaska governor is drawn," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The woman introduced to America as a reform-minded Washington outsider who opposed the infamous 'bridge to nowhere' -- the symbol of McCain's hatred of wasteful spending -- originally supported its construction. The governor who in her introductory speech decried the practice of budgetary 'earmarks' sought, as the state's chief executive and as mayor of Wasilla, hundreds of millions of dollars in such federal funding for local projects."

Speaking of -- it's not just a bridge: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure almost $27 million in federal earmarks for a town of 6,700 residents while she was its mayor," The Washington Post's Paul Kane reports. "There was $500,000 for a youth shelter, $1.9 million for a transportation hub, $900,000 for sewer repairs, and $15 million for a rail project -- all intended to benefit Palin's town, Wasilla, located about 45 miles north of Anchorage."

"In fiscal year 2002, Wasilla took in $6.1 million in earmarks -- about $1,000 in federal money for every resident. By contrast, Boise, Idaho -- which has more than 190,000 residents -- received $6.9 million in earmarks in fiscal 2008," Kane adds. "All told, Wasilla benefited from $26.9 million in earmarks in Palin's final four years in office. . . . In February, Palin's [governor's] office sent Sen. Stevens a 70-page memo outlining almost $200 million worth of new funding requests for Alaska."

Plus: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin began building clout in her state's political circles in part by serving as a director of an independent political group organized by the now embattled Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens," Matthew Mosk reports in The Washington Post. "Palin's name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the 'Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.,' a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors."

This would make it harder to get earmarks: "Officials of the Alaskan Independence Party say that Palin was once so independent, she was once a member of their party, which, since the 1970s, has been pushing for a legal vote for Alaskans to decide whether or not residents of the 49th state can secede from the United States," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "And while McCain's motto -- as seen in a new TV ad -- is 'Country First,' the AIP's motto is the exact opposite -- 'Alaska First -- Alaska Always.' "

Layer this all on top of the experience question: "A day and a half ago, I asked the campaign for an example of her dealings with Russia or the Russians. I'm still waiting," Slate's John Dickerson writes.

And that big local scandal that swirls still: "The Alaska state senator running an investigation of Gov. Palin says the McCain campaign is using stall tactics to prevent him from releasing his final report by Oct. 31, four days before the November election," ABC's Brian Ross and Len Tepper report.

"It's likely to be damaging to the governor," said Senator Hollis French, a Democrat, appointed the project manager for a bi-partisan State Senate Legislative Counsel Committee investigation of claims that Palin abused her office to get the Alaska public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, fired.

Swinging back, on the pregnancy: "If people try to politicize this, the American people will be appalled by it," said senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt, per the Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak. Said independent political analyst Charlie Cook: "She can't take on a whole lot more water."

And somebody's talking on the inside: "A GOP source with close ties to the campaign said that McCain aides 'vetted her through Google and clipping services,' " Barabak writes. " 'If instead of looking like a hockey mom, she looks like a person from a weird family, this could sink her,' said one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly."

How does this sound? "The fact is that John McCain made a thorough search . . . and made a decision," said Schmidt, per the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva. "And Sarah Palin is going to help him clean up America."

The delegates were practically reading from the same script in their continued support for Palin Monday (might they even like her more now?) -- but keep in mind these are folks who are inclined to like McCain's still-new running mate.

"The announcement sought to put to rest a potentially damaging Internet rumor concerning the parentage of Palin's infant son. It also showcases one of Palin's strengths as a candidate: the perception that she is a 'real' person who has coped with setbacks that average Americans face every day," per ABC News.

"But by the same token, the pregnancy raises complicated questions for conservative voters regarding issues of teenage sexual activity. And -- perhaps more troubling for the McCain-Palin ticket -- the revelation comes during a critical period where voters are just beginning to learn about Palin and her family."

Looking normal? "Fishing permit violations. A blue-collar husband who racked up a DUI citation as a 22-year-old. An unmarried teenage daughter who is pregnant and a nasty child custody battle involving a family member," Charles Mahtesian writes for Politico. "All of this, to one degree or another, has surfaced in recent days as a result of efforts to discredit or undermine Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But these revelations may have the opposite effect: In one sense, they could reinforce how remarkably unremarkable she is."

(Might this be one of those cases where Republicans are happy to see liberal blogs react -- and overreact?)

The context: "The longtime love affair between John McCain and what he once called his 'base' -- the national news media -- is on the rocks," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla writes.

The movement hearts her -- even if the national press sort of misses the point, per National Review's Byron York. "The McCain aides' assignment was to call a list of about 40 top evangelical and other cultural conservative leaders. Each one would get a personal explanation of the story, and each was asked for his or her reaction. The McCain people reached nearly everyone before the story broke, and the verdict was unanimous -- all the leaders supported Palin and her place on the McCain ticket."

Why they like her: "Her selection may also cut into Democrat Barack Obama's organizing advantage. In Loudoun County, Virginia, Obama had an office weeks ago operating with 60 volunteers, while McCain's headquarters hasn't even opened. Palin's selection prompted a flood of e-mails to Republican officials from voters," Bloomberg's Catherine Dodge and Kristin Jensen report.

Why else they like her: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain raised at least $47 million in August, his biggest haul of money so far and a sign that he is dispelling doubts about his campaign among conservative donors," the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports.

Inside and outside the Xcel Energy Center, support: "Delegates to the Republican National Convention, as well as Democrat Barack Obama, reacted sympathetically Monday to the disclosure that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's unmarried teenaged daughter is pregnant. But others said the revelation raised questions about John McCain's judgment," Martha T. Moore writes for USA Today.

Among the very few GOPers with public concerns: "I think there will be a period of surprise and questions: When did McCain know and what did he know?" said Priscilla Rakestraw, a Republican National Committee member from Delaware.

Even if this sorts itself out, there's still the fact of the pregnancy itself: "The revelation focused attention on the Republican Party's call, in the party platform adopted today, for unwed teenagers to abstain from sex," Michael Kranish reports in The Boston Globe. "In a story heavy with cultural overtones, Palin's daughter became both the talk of the GOP convention and the latest episode in the national discussion about teen pregnancy."

Lynn Sweet, of the Chicago Sun-Times: "I'm trying to connect the dots here. . . . Unmarried teen five months pregnant, will marry father. . . . She's the daughter of the GOP vice presidential nominee, the little-known Alaska governor, at the center of a controversy over a fired Alaskan state trooper. . . . Republicans at their convention Monday adopt platform calling for increased funding for abstinence education."

"For at least the time being, Gov. Sarah Palin appears to have survived the initial test after the disclosure that her unmarried teenage daughter was pregnant," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "Republican delegates rallied around her on Monday, saying the disclosure would not threaten her hopes of being Senator John McCain's running mate."

"Still, it seemed certain, along with other dribbles of disclosures about Ms. Palin, to interfere with the careful effort by the McCain campaign to portray her as a socially conservative, corruption-fighting hockey mom with five children," Nagourney continues. "Not incidentally, this is occurring at a critical moment for Ms. Palin, when a picture of her is just being drawn for the American public."

"The announcement set off a new wave of chatter -- and heightened both the doubts of doubters, and the admiration of admirers," Stephanie Simon writes in The Wall Street Journal. "It was liberals who found themselves questioning whether Gov. Palin can adequately care for her growing family while running for the vice presidency or, if it came to that, running the country. And it was conservatives who found themselves championing the feminist view that women can do it all -- and denouncing skeptics as sexist."

"Will women, often the harshest critics of other women, especially in public life, doubt McCain for choosing a running mate whose life is so complex and full?" ask Anne E. Kornblut and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post. "Or will some of the women who believed so fervently in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) embrace Palin's all-too-human story and back her historic candidacy, despite ideological differences?"

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder gets the official campaign talking points: "The media should respect Bristol's privacy. That's always been the tradition and practice when it comes to the children of candidates. (If pressed) The children of candidates do not choose to run for office and be thrust into the spotlight."

The Alaska convention delegation has been given media training to handle the flying questions, ABC's David Wright reported Tuesday on "Good Morning America."

On the father-to-be, Levi Johnston: "On his MySpace page, he calls himself a 'redneck' who likes to snowboard and ride dirt bikes . . . but mostly loves hockey," ABC's Lisa Fletcher reports. "He's in a relationship but quote, 'doesn't want kids.' Personal revelations on a Website page that has now been taken down."

They're not surprised in Wasilla: "It was, more or less, an open secret," Time's Nathan Thornburgh writes. "And everyone was saying the same thing: the governor's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, the father is her boyfriend, and it's really nobody's business beyond that."

We have though, at the very least, a full-blown media madness moment: "If anything, the still-unfolding story of Ms. Palin, 44, and her family eclipsed whatever other message anyone may have hoped to send from the Republican National Convention here on Monday," Monica Davey writes in The New York Times. "It was a narrative worthy of a Lifetime television drama (which, perhaps fittingly, is sponsoring a string of events aimed at women here this week)."

"Sarah Palin was on a roll, fresh-faced and fiery, just the boost of energy John McCain's slow-but-steady campaign needed. Now that's over," writes Newsday's Craig Gordon.

"This was another storm John McCain didn't want to come ashore," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News.

Remember when this was going to be Sarah Palin's story? "The Palin pick allows McCain to run the way he wants to -- not as the old goat running against the fresh upstart, but as the crusader for virtue against the forces of selfishness. It allows him to make cleaning out the Augean stables of Washington the major issue of his campaign," David Brooks writes in his New York Times column.

Try that on for size now: "He's a superhunky bad-boy ice hockey player from cold country; she's a chestnut-haired beauty and popular high school senior," per the New York Daily News. "The all-American teen twosome will make GOP vice presidential pick and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a grandma at age 44 -- just in time for Christmas."

Another cut on the lost day: "Day One wasn't going to look at the Bush-Cheney record in total, but rather at the administration's one big talking point: It's record of protecting the country from another major terrorist attack," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "This is not only the one aspect of the Bush record that McCain enthusiastically embraces, it's a key part of the party's argument against Barack Obama."

Democrats don't forget: "McCain faces a unique challenge this week. He must not only distance himself from the uncompassionate and incompetent response of the Bush administration concerning Hurricane Katrina; he must also distance himself from his own hapless and heartless response," Donna Brazile writes in her Roll Call column.

Republicans would like, at some point, to tell another story: "The Democratic National Convention significantly boosted Americans' views of Barack Obama as a strong leader who 'shares your values' and can manage the economy and Iraq, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Saturday and Sunday finds," Susan Page writes for USA Today. "Republican John McCain's advantage in handling terrorism was dramatically reduced, and his 'unfavorable' rating ticked up to its highest level this year."

The poll puts it at Obama 50, McCain 43.

The Sked:

The Republican National Convention whirls to a belated start Tuesday. The schedule is still in flux, but headliner speakers include Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; and President Bush, live via satellite. (What -- no hook-up for Cheney?)

"With Gustav having having spared New Orleans, the convention's focus will switch from the meteorological to the political," per ABC's John Berman and Jennifer Parker.

Palin will be a no show at a Tuesday event hosted by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and the Republican National Coalition for Life, per ABC's Teddy Davis.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., campaigns in Florida.

McCain has no public events scheduled Tuesday.

Obama is down in Chicago Tuesday, with no public schedule.

Also in the news:

Speaking of that Obama guy: "It was Labor Day, and Barack Obama had to work. Hard. Because there were land mines to dodge everywhere he stepped," James Oliphant writes in the Chicago Tribune. "First was the potentially devastating Hurricane Gustav as it roared ashore in Louisiana. Next came the revelation that Bristol Palin, the unmarried, 17-year-old daughter of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is expecting a baby. . . . By Monday, Obama had abandoned any pretense of campaigning, tossing out his planned speech in Detroit before a large crowd of union members."

"Republicans were quick to note that while Obama said he was not officially campaigning in Milwaukee, he still made an appearance before a large, political crowd," Susanne Rust writes in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"Hours of standing in line and waiting to listen to Sen. Barack Obama ended for thousands with a 9-minute speech Monday from the Democratic presidential candidate," Ben Schmitt writes in the Detroit Free Press. "Some expressed major disappointment, while others said they understood that Obama had to cast politics aside as Hurricane Gustav came ashore in Louisiana."

What cards are being played here? Obama, to CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday: "My understanding is, is that Governor Sarah Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years. And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect."

Karl Rove likes what he hears: Rove "argued that Democrats have already 'over played' their hand on Palin by putting out a statement -- from the Obama campaign -- that cast her as an inexperienced, small town mayor," per Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza. Said Rove: "They run a real risk of looking condescending. . . . The same crowd played these cards against Clinton and it was a mistake."

The uglier side of the convention: "Bolstered by emergency help from the Minnesota National Guard, police in St. Paul arrested 284 people Monday after outbreaks of violence and road obstructions linked to rogue bands of demonstrators among an otherwise peaceful throng estimated at 10,000 people," Curt Brown writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "As the day wore on, the carnival atmosphere turned ugly."

"Waving signs and chanting in unison 'troops out now,' thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets of St. Paul Monday for what is the largest anti-war rally scheduled during the week of the Republican Convention," per ABC's Lindsey Ellerson. "Police estimated a crowd of 8,000 to10,000 at the event organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, despite initial predictions that up to 50,000 demonstrators would show up."

The happier side continues: "Corporate lobbyists are clearly going ahead with their plans to spend millions of dollars entertaining key Republican lawmakers and officials," ABC's Brian Ross reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "The lobbyists were out in force as the National Rifle Association, Lockheed/Martin and the American Trucking Association took over a downtown bar for a party that went into the early hours. The band was called 'Hookers and Blow.' The host was Washington lobbyist Glenn LeMunyon, a long time aide to former Congressman Tom Delay."

The Kicker:

"Big, blowhard doofus." -- Karl Rove, describing vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden, per PolitickerME.com. (Big?)

"I'm not sure what the technical definition of doofus is." -- McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace, on "Good Morning America." (Says Dictionary.com: "An incompetent, foolish, or stupid person.")

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